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AY phase one redesign coming, says Times critic

So we've been waiting and waiting for the new dimensions of Frank Gehry's "Miss Brooklyn," which last December was taken down from 620 feet to (apparently) 511 feet, a sliver less than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

But what would be the bulk of the building, once projected at three times the size of the bank building? Almost certainly Gehry's building would remain much larger.

Soon, apparently, we may find out, thanks to a hint not in any announcement from the government or developer, but from the New York Times's architecture critic, who managed a brief but error-riddled update on the Atlantic Yards project.

Project under way?

In a "New Season" season preview in the New York Times's Arts and Leisure section, in an article headlined Architectural Shifts, Global and Local, Nicolai Ouroussoff writes:
New Yorkers will see several major nonmuseum projects getting under way this season, and these could bring about the biggest shift in decades in the city’s physical identity.

The most startling is a $14 billion plan by the developers Stephen M. Ross and Steven Roth to rebuild a swath of Midtown that includes Madison Square Garden, Pennsylvania Station and the James A. Farley post office....

Another huge project is the $4 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, and Frank Gehry will soon unveil his redesign of its first phase, so it will soon become clear whether Brooklyn will receive a dazzling 21st-century version of Rockefeller Center or a conventional retail-entertainment-sports complex inside a pretty architectural wrapper.


First, it's hardly certain that Atlantic Yards will actually get under way; that depends on the resolution of a federal lawsuit, now in the appeals stage, and a state lawsuit, awaiting a trial court decision, as well as other delays.

Like the Rock?

Second, it's doubtful that Gehry can redesign the first phase, which is four towers wrapped around an arena, plus one tower to the west across Flatbush Avenue, to make Atlantic Yards echo Rockefeller Center.

The latter notably added rather than subtracted streets. The first phase of Atlantic Yards would close Fifth Avenue between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, and Pacific Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues.

(This is from the General Project Plan, issued 12/8/06. Click to enlarge.)

Any effort to make AY look more like Rockefeller Center would have to focus on the design of the project's open space, which would come in the second phase. Indeed, Ouroussoff in June 2006 criticized the open space design as suggesting a private enclave.

It's about housing

Third, Atlantic Yards would not be a retail-entertainment-sports complex. More than three-quarters of its square footage (nearly 6.4 million sf out of nearly 8 million sf) would be occupied by housing (see p. 18 of this PDF), and at 292 units/acre, the project would be far more dense than any other major project in the city.

Rather, Atlantic Yards would be, as another Times reporter more accurately described it, "essentially a large residential development with an arena and a relatively small amount of office and retail space attached to it."

Comments

  1. It’s worth asking why the Ratner project is proposing closing down streets, avenues and sidewalks to create superblocks when this is such palpably bad design. By contrast, Rockefeller Center, mentioned by Norman in this post, is an exemplar of how adding rather than subtracting streets can be a much better design.

    The following answers present themselves:

    1. Subterfuge to disguise project density. By taking the streets that would normally be owned by the city and the public and creating superblocks where that area will instead be part of the land to which the developer “holds title”, the developer creates the basis for an argument, deceptively subtle, that the project is not actually as dense as it is. If the streets are not transferred to the developer and deleted from the publicly owned grid the project would be at an FAR (floor to area ratio) so dense that it would be clearly illegal or not permitted under the city’s zoning code. By deleted the streets the project owner can better venture an argument that the project might theoretically comply with the maximum permitted FAR which is perhaps possible under the city zoning code in certain other limited instances. I am not sure that the argument could be successfully and honestly made, but the point is that taking the streets from the public subtly allows venture of a technical argument that the project should be viewed as less dense and as potentially theoretically compliant.

    2. To inflate perception that the project provides more than very minimal “green space.” The streets, avenues and sidewalks owned by the public provide: light, sunshine, air, pedestrian ways, tree growing space, public areas to socialize and the freedom to circulate. In short, streets and sidewalks fulfill many purposes in common with “green space”and park land. One of the rationales that has been offered for the project’s creation is the idea that “green space” will be created. This is probably offered also as an attempt to distract from the project’s oppressive density. Actually, the amount of true green space being created is rather infinitesimal except that developer wants to take credit for donating back to public the very same street, avenue and sidewalk space the developer is first going to wrest from public ownership. In other words a shell-game. I know a good Marx Brothers routine running along similar lines. Not only is the net amount of true green space being newly created for the public negligible but the quality of the green space being offered is exceeding poor. The space will be scrunched into the continual shadow of excessively tall buildings and will be crisscrossed by the vehicular and sidewalk access pathways that will still be functionally needed notwithstanding that public roads and sidewalks have technically been eliminated.

    3. Disguise for the lack of basis to condemn the block with the Ward Bakery building. One entire large block of the Atlantic Yards project is being condemned without virtually any plausible basis. This block of existing viable buildings including the historic Wards Bakery building that should be preserved. This Ward Bakery block is not needed to construct the proposed arena. The block is not blighted. The real reason the block is being condemned is to create an unjustifiable windfall to subsidize the developer. This will be done by involving the State ESDC to exercise a zoning override. The block is currently zoned mostly M1-1 and partly R7A. In condemning the land the developer will have to pay only a very low price reflecting this current relatively low density of development for which the block is now zoned. While not having to pay any more for the block than this, (not even the site’s potential value at the higher density for which it might otherwise soon be rezoned if that is desirable), the developer will get to develop the site at a density that is so extremely high it exceeds what would be ever otherwise normally be permitted under the zoning code for the block. The tactical elimination of the city’s Pacific Street which would separate the block from the rest of the project in this area serves to make this overreaching far less obvious.

    4. Obfuscation that the Project is natural candidate for multiple developers. Were the existing streets and avenues maintained the project would exist as a greater number of discrete blocks. Were additional streets put in, as well they should, as was done with Rockefeller Center (and would opportunely serve to extend existing to street patterns in this case) there would be an even greater number of discrete blocks. A project of this size is an obvious candidate for development by multiple developers: compare, for instance, Battery Park City. The multiplicity of blocks would highlight this as the most appropriate way to proceed. It would emphasis in an embarrassing way that award of this project without a proper bid process has, all along, been the wrong way to proceed. It would also call attention to the fact that, for the public’s benefit, at any time later phases of this project can and should be readily transferable to other more accountable developers.

    5. General obliviousness to good design- Metrotech. The most innocuous explanation for the elimination of streets, sidewalks and avenues and the creation of superblocks using the discredited “tower in the `park’” approach is that the developer is simply oblivious to the tenets of good design. The best support for this argument is the developer’s design for Metrotech. That endeavor likewise created Superblocks and reflects peculiar decisions about street demappings. The Metrotech project created an area that suffers from lack of an active street life and is deadened by an uninspired repetitive sameness of design effect. Metrotech has also seriously confused the area’s street grid options, making south-to-north transit an almost insurmountable challenge even for a determined bicyclist.

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